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The Right to Privacy   By:

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The Right to Privacy by Louis D. Brandeis delves into the intricate relationship between privacy and the law, offering a highly persuasive argument for the recognition and protection of this fundamental human right. Originally published as an article in 1890, it remains remarkably relevant more than a century later.

Brandeis and his co-author, Samuel D. Warren, were inspired to write this seminal piece after a series of intrusive newspaper reports about prominent figures. They believed that the age of rapid industrialization and modernization necessitated a legal framework to safeguard individuals from unwarranted exposure of their personal lives.

The book begins with an insightful exploration of the historical context surrounding privacy, tracing its roots in English common law and highlighting its fundamental role in preserving liberty. Brandeis then presents a comprehensive analysis of the emerging technologies of the time (such as photography, sensational journalism, and the telephone) and their potential threat to personal privacy.

One of the book's greatest strengths lies in Brandeis' meticulous examination of legal principles and landmark cases related to privacy. He skillfully weaves together jurisprudence, philosophy, and real-life examples to support his argument. In doing so, Brandeis effectively demonstrates how the existing legal framework falls short in addressing the challenges posed by evolving technology.

The authors propose a new legal concept that would embrace the evolving notion of privacy and establish concrete protections. They advocate for the recognition of a right to privacy within the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution, applying a broad interpretation of individual security and freedom from intrusion.

What sets this book apart is Brandeis' prescient anticipation of the impact of technology on privacy. He warns against the dangers of information disclosure, unscrupulous surveillance, and the commodification of personal data—a foreshadowing of the challenges faced in our modern digital age. As we grapple with debates over government surveillance, online privacy, and data breaches, Brandeis' insights act as a guiding compass for the ongoing discussions on the right to privacy.

The Right to Privacy is a thought-provoking and insightful read. Brandeis masterfully argues the case for privacy as an essential component of a civilized society. His writings not only shaped legal doctrines but also had a profound impact on public opinion, inspiring subsequent legislative reforms and becoming a cornerstone of privacy advocacy. Regardless of its 19th-century origins, this work remains a crucial source of enlightenment for anyone interested in the intersection of law, technology, and personal freedom.

First Page:



1890 91




VOL. IV. DECEMBER 15, 1890. NO. 5.


"It could be done only on principles of private justice, moral fitness, and public convenience, which, when applied to a new subject, make common law without a precedent; much more when received and approved by usage."

WILLES, J., in Millar v. Taylor, 4 Burr. 2303, 2312.

That the individual shall have full protection in person and in property is a principle as old as the common law; but it has been found necessary from time to time to define anew the exact nature and extent of such protection. Political, social, and economic changes entail the recognition of new rights, and the common law, in its eternal youth, grows to meet the demands of society. Thus, in very early times, the law gave a remedy only for physical interference with life and property, for trespasses vi et armis . Then the "right to life" served only to protect the subject from battery in its various forms; liberty meant freedom from actual restraint; and the right to property secured to the individual his lands and his cattle... Continue reading book >>

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